capitolsummerA nine-member panel formed to assess the oft-criticized Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Monday released its long-awaited report and largely kept the gloves on when it came to its review of the ethics regulator.

That’s not to say the 307-page report didn’t contain a number of recommendations to change the panel, including reducing the 14-member commission’s board and make itself more responsive when it comes to the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

At the same time, the panel recommended procedural changes such as ending voting requirements that allow a minority of the commissioners to block an investigation of an official who is the member of their own party, while also providing for more than 45 days from the filing of a complaint until it must decide whether it should take action.

The report also called for a severing of “advice” and enforcement” staff with the goal of ensuring compliance in good-faith.

Though the review panel’s findings were exactly the sexiest, the report’s biggest criticism of JCOPE was on transparency, which observers have said has been sorely lacking.

“To bolster the public’s faith in the work of both JCOPE and LEC, it is recommended that, absent legislative change, each agency undertake a legal review and attempt to develop policies as to when voluntary disclosures of certain information (salary rosters and budgets for example) by the agency might be appropriate and would not compromise the agency’s deliberative functions, the privacy rights of individuals, or be injurious to individuals who may be the subject of complaints or investigations,” the report found. “Similarly, clear policies should be adopted to govern when open meetings will be held, or when closed meetings will be held, consistent with the law.”

The report of the watchdog, which was formed in 2011 to oversee public officials and regulate lobbying, had initially been required to be released by June 1 last year. The deadline was ignored, and the state budget this year included a new set of deadlines: May 1 for the panel to be named, and Sunday for it to release its findings.

Ethics Document Final by Nick Reisman